I never wanted to be simply comfortable with my job. I’ve always wanted to love my job.
As a 19 year old college student I decided that academia wasn’t for me. Farming was. And though I didn’t actually begin farming until age 25, the six intervening years were critical in my transformation from young dreamer to weathered vegetable grower. My undergraduate Spanish degree felt virtually worthless and my few mediocre skills seemed misplaced once I left college. So what if I could write a paper? Use watercolors? Translate a passage? Gifts that had given me self-confidence in the overly-affirming campus environment now felt like unnecessary laurels.
I needed land. I needed equipment. I needed connections. I needed a market. Oh, and yes. I needed to learn how to farm.
So I learned.
During the six years after I graduated from college I had a vision so focused that I never once considered abandoning my goal. My night job as a waitress in nouveau cuisine restaurants introduced me to the latest hottest vegetables, as well as salesmanship and customer relations. Working in the produce department of an organic grocer taught me vegetable storage and market display techniques. My month of wandering solo through Costa Rica, visiting farms, gave me confidence that farming could become my vocation.
As I participated in countless conferences, workshops, and courses in sustainability and organic agriculture, I became aware that I could be a small part of a global solution. The many hours spent in my backyard gardens, sweating in the sun, affirmed my determination to make farming my work.
In my twenties I learned how to grow organic vegetables for market. In my 30s I learned how to manage my own catering business, The Juniper Spoon.
And I loved it. Because I was doing it with all of my being.
Certainly, there are risks, including the financial challenge of being self-employed, the physical challenge of working long hours, and the emotional challenge of the resulting social isolation.
But for me the greater risk has always been conformity. I’ve been happiest during my wild pursuits and breathtaking adventures. I’ve been least satisfied when working for someone else, receiving a biweekly paycheck. I’ve discovered that owning my job, both literally (as a business-owner) and figuratively (feeling good about my work) is critical to my happiness.
Now, I’m in my forties. I’m still pouring life into The Juniper Spoon. I still have my oversized garden. But now I have a family too, and my goals have changed somewhat because of that. My challenge is to find the way to stay relevant without sacrificing the stability that I have slowly managed to create.
Even though I still make decisions that others probably wouldn’t make, I worry about losing my edge. I worry about failing to keep up with a rapidly changing market.
But most of all I worry about becoming so comfortable that I miss the next challenge, the next thing I could pour all of my being into, the next thing I’d really love to do.
Lali Hess is the owner of The Juniper Spoon. She is one of the panelists for the November 7, 2013, Spirit & Place event, The Risk of Pursuing Your Passion. The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at the First Mennonite Church, 4601 Knollton Rd, Indianapolis, IN, 46228. Doors open at 6:30 pm, event begins at 7:00 pm.